The passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act (GCA68) was not an end in and of itself. As with all events, especially legislative ones, there were many unintended consequences. After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1964, Sen. Tom Dodd (D-CT) toured the country as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency promoting his gun control legislation that eventually became GCA68. He was able to get large crowds at his speaking events and get tremendous press coverage. In the late 1960s promoting gun control was the road to attention from both national and local press.
While the gun control battle raged in the 1960s, a young gun enthusiast and writer, Clifford Neal Knox, was writing articles for gun magazines and working for the Vernon Daily Record in Vernon, TX. In 1966 he was given the opportunity to become the first editor of Gun Week. He spent the next two years writing columns about firearms legislation, lobbying the Congress against all gun bills, and turning Gun Week into a well-known publication that focused on firearms legislation. Yet, Knox wasn’t the only gunowner who became an activist in the late 1960s. The passage of the GCA68 and the subsequent promotion of anti-gun legislation at the state and local levels was the catalyst for a cadre of gun rights activists who were later to become leaders in the fight against gun control legislation.
1969, the year following the passage of Dodd’s gun bill, was a banner year for the introduction of gun control at the state level. Bills were introduced that ranged from outright bans to registration of all firearms in more than 50% of the nation’s states. From Maine to California and from Florida to Washington the state legislatures tried not only to copy the GCA68, but to add to its onerous features.
During the years prior to the passage of GCA68, the National Rifle Association, the nation’s oldest and biggest organization of gunowners, had been largely silent in its publications about the threat. Yes, they sent Franklin Orth, the association’s Executive Vice-President (1959-1970), to testify on Capitol Hill, but otherwise did practically nothing. Former NRA President Sandra Froman, in a two-part article, “The History of Gun Control” (http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=56047) published by WorldNetDaily, summarizes this period:
The other major factor that created the federal gun control movement was that the NRA, as an organization, was totally unprepared to deal with the media, Lyndon Johnson, or the anti-gun politicians in the U.S. House and Senate. Up until that point, NRA refused even to have a registered lobbyist. In fact, NRA sent mixed signals to the Hill in reference to Johnson’s anti-gun legislation.
If NRA had held nominally pro-gun House members’ feet to the fire, the 1968 Gun Control Act, or GCA, would not have become law. With no direction from NRA, however, those legislators simply didn’t vote. And the worst piece of gun control legislation in history was enacted into law.
Froman went on to state that “GCA made many common gun-related commercial activities federal crimes.” The newly empowered ATF was given the green light to fight against the so-called “criminals” using guns. It was not only busy writing regulations to implement GCA68 but also developing crime-fighting tactics to ensure success against gunowners. Additionally, they were emboldened by the support for gun control in the press and began a culture of seeking press attention for their “crime fighting” successes.
One of those “gun related commercial activities” banned under GCA68 was the importation of so-called Saturday Night Specials. This was one of the provisions that Dodd had put in as a sop to his Connecticut gun manufacturers. Those manufacturers believed that imported firearms of any kind were detrimental to their business. And the NRA in 1968 even endorsed the ban. After Orth’s death in 1970, the NRA maintained its legislative non-involvement position, except for “Saturday Night Specials.”
The new Executive Vice President, Maxwell Rich, even testified before Congress in 1971 when the US Senate was considering S. 2507, a ban on Saturday Night Specials, saying, “On the Saturday Night Special, we are for it [banning] 100 percent. We would like to get rid of these guns.” Although the bill passed the U.S. Senate by a 68-25 vote, it never came to a vote in the House and died at the end of the Congressional session.
However, this NRA endorsement was the catalyst to two major NRA events: the founding of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and what has come to be known as the 1977 Cincinnati revolt. Harlon Carter, a past president of the NRA, led the charge against Rich in a 1972 Board meeting where he stated, “The latest news release from NRA embraces a disastrous concept... that evil is imputed to the sale and delivery, the possession of a certain kind of firearm, entirely apart from the good or evil intent of the man who uses it and/or (2) the legitimate use of a handgun is limited to sporting use.” (Tartaro, Joseph, Revolt at Cincinnati)
Carter, in conjunction with Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), began the process to form a Legislative branch within the NRA that culminated in 1975 with the establishment of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and Carter being appointed its first Executive Director. Yet the NRA leadership did not support the Institute financially and Carter felt hamstrung. In May 1977 the Cincinnati revolt took place and Harlon Carter took over the entire NRA and Neal Knox, the gun rights activist, soon became the new executive director of the NRA Institute.
Additionally many of those gun rights activists who had been trained under fire in the legislative battles of the late 1960s and the 1970s became involved in the NRA either as members of the NRA Board of Directors or as staff members in the Institute for Legislative Action.
In the late 1970s the newly energized NRA would begin its clash with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms over the ATF’s enforcement of the GCA68. That clash later would lead to Congressional action to reform the GCA68.
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